Roots of rebellion: The noose that dangles from the family tree
Our travels have taken us into the past again — this time pretty far, 240 years or so, when my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was captured, convicted for his role in a pre-Revolutionary War uprising and sentenced to die.
Five years before the American Revolution officially began — under orders of North Carolina Royal Gov. William Tryon, being carried out by Col. Edmund Fanning — grandpa James was placed atop a barrel (by most accounts) in Hillsborough, North Carolina. The noose of a rope secured to a tree limb was looped around his neck, and he was permitted a few last words.
“The blood that we have shed will be as good seeds sown in good ground — which soon shall reap a hundredfold!”
On the gallows, grandpa James — and who could blame him for being verbose, given the circumstances — reviewed the causes of the conflict he’d been captured during. He explained that the band of rebellious backwoods farmers he’d been swept up with, known as the Regulators, were seeking only a redress of grievances. And he reiterated the call for an end to unfair taxation and local government corruption, especially in the sheriff’s office.
He had been granted 30 minutes to talk, which might be considered generous were it not for the sentence that was to be carried out when he finished, prescribed by the court thusly:
“That the prisoner should be carried to the place from whence he came, that he should be drawn from thence to the place of execution and hanged by the neck; that he should be cut down while yet alive; that his bowels should be taken out and burned before his face; that his head should be cut off, and that his body should be divided into four quarters, which were to be placed at the king’s disposal, and may the lord have mercy on your soul.”
Speaking from atop the barrel, and apparently still well within his 30-minute time limit, grandpa James worked in one last verbal jab at Col. Fanning — a Yale-educated dandy (my words) — calling him “unfit to hold any office.” Fanning, whose home had been ravaged by rioting Regulators the previous year, ordered a soldier to kick over the barrel, snapping grandpa James’ neck in mid-sentence.
Whether the additional terms of his sentence were carried out — the bowel burning and quartering and such — seems lost to history. But grandpa James, who was convicted not of murder but of violating a government order aimed at quelling uprisings, was later buried, in whole or in parts, along the peaceful green banks of the Eno River, along with five other Regulators captured and hung after what’s known as the Battle of Alamance.
Fortunately — for me anyway — great (times eight) grandpa James had already sown his personal seeds by then, or at least the one from which I, many generations later, would sprout.
I did not learn of grandpa James until I was in my 40′s, which is maybe a good thing because it would not have made for a nice bedtime story.
Once I did, I began researching, sporadically, the history of the Regulators, who over the centuries have been viewed as everything from outlaws to heroes to hillbillies to the true instigators of what would become the Revolutionary War. There are some who have described the bloodshed at the Battle of Alamance — grandpa James being responsible for much of that spillage — as that war’s first battle.
That, I’ve concluded, despite it being engraved on at least one historical marker, is a bit of a stretch. Historical markers, like the Internet, are not to be trusted.
My family connection with a pre-Revolutionary revolutionary, a rabble rouser before it became cool, has prompted some personal speculation.
I don’t put much stock in genes being the force that primarily shape us — at least not when it comes to our hearts (in the non-organic sense) and minds and personalities — yet still I’ve wondered if grandpa James might be the source of my rebellious streak, my disdain for bureaucracies and my belief that public disturbances are often OK, because sometimes the public needs a good disturbing.
Might it explain — even though it existed long before I heard of him — my opposition to capital punishment, not to mention decapitation and bowel burning?
Or, conversely, might his abrupt demise — that rudest of interruptions — be the reason I don’t talk too much? I think not, since learned experiences aren’t passed on through genes (despite what pit bull haters may say), especially those lessons learned a millisecond before, or at the time of death.
Most of all, as I look at the family tree, nooses and all, I wonder: Do I come from righteous activist stock, or rowdy outlaw stock, or is the line between those two sometimes so thin that its hard to separate one from the other? Was great-times-eight grandpa a felon, or folk hero?
(Top photos by John Woestendiek, John and Ace photo by Will Richardson, 14, of Hillsborough)
Posted by jwoestendiek August 10th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alamance county, america, battle of alamance, corruption, dissent, edmund fanning, execution, family, family tree, forefathers, gallows, genealogy, government, hang, hanged, hanging, hillsborough, history, insurgents, james pugh, john woestendiek, north carolina, pugh, regulators, revolutionary war, road trip, taxation, travels with ace, william tryon